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Canada finds more unmarked graves

July 14, 2021

Indigenous chief Joan Brown said the Penelakut tribe had to "face the trauma because of these acts of genocide." Canadian PM Justin Trudeau said his "heart breaks" at the discovery.

Children at the Kuper Island Indian Residential School
Children pose the Kuper Island Indian Residential School where unmarked graves were found Image: Royal BC Museum/REUTERS

Calls for an investigation into "crimes against humanity" in Canada intensified after 160 more unmarked graves of Indigenous children were found on Tuesday at the site of another Roman Catholic boarding school.

The discovery of the undocumented, unmarked graves at the former Kuper Island residential school in British Columbia brings the number of children's bodies found to over 1,000 in recent months, prompting horror and anger among people in Canada and abroad.

"We are at another point in time where we must face the trauma because of these acts of genocide," said Penelakut Tribe Chief Joan Brown, the tribe of the dead children in a letter written on July 8.

What have indigenous tribes said?

Bob Chamberlin, a former vice president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said the discovery is "the tip of the iceberg," suggesting that many more unmarked graves were still to be discovered.

British Columbia's Kuper Island Indian Residential School
British Columbia's Kuper Island Indian Residential SchoolImage: Royal BC Museum/REUTERS

"We understand that many of our brothers and sistersfrom our neighboring communities attended the Kuper Island Industrial School," said Brown. "We also recognize with a tremendous amount of grief and loss that too many did not return home."

The 160 mass graves were found on Penelakut Island, situated between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia.

How has the government reacted?

The Roman Catholic Church ran what it called the Kuper Island Indian Industrial School from 1890 to 1969. The government took it over until 1975, when it closed down and the building was demolished in the 1980s.

"My heart breaks for the Penelakut Tribe and for all the Indigenous communities across the country," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

"I recognize these findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors and all Indigenous peoples and communities are already feeling as they reaffirm the truth that they have long known,'' Trudeau said on Tuesday.

"To members of the Penelakut Tribe, we are here for you. We cannot bring back those who are lost, but we can and will continue to tell the truth,'' Trudeau said.

What other unmarked graves were found?

Last June, ground-penetrating radar raised the alarm about182 corpses at a former residential school in Cranbrook, also in British Columbia.

It came just a week after the Cowessess First Nation found 600 unmarked graves 85 miles (135 kilometers) east of Saskatchewan's capital, Regina, at the former location of the Marieval Residential School.

In May, investigators found the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, on what was once Canadaꞌs biggest indigenous residential school close to Kamloops in British Columbia.

From the 1800s to the 1970s, Roman Catholic missionaries ran boarding schools for 150,000 indigenous children where the government has admitted sexual and physical abuse was rife.

Two New Democratic Party lawmakers have called for authorities to investigate "crimes against humanity" in residential schools.

jc/sms (AFP, AP)